A couple of years ago, Common Core — a high school advocacy organization that hopes to improve education in America — conducted a study that rated how much high school students really knew about civics, history and literature. The findings were bleak. While 97% of students knew that Martin Luther King, Jr. penned the "I Have a Dream Speech" and a majority of teens knew that Thomas Jefferson was one of the principal drafters of the Declaration of Independence, other seemingly simple facts about major U.S. history figures and events, like WWI and Christopher Columbus, proved too challenging. Here are 30 surprising things that U.S. high schoolers don’t know, revealed by the Common Core study and other tests.
- When the Civil War was fought: On the multiple choice test given by Common Core, less than half of high schoolers knew when the Civil War was fought. They didn’t even need to know exact dates, just that it was sometime between 1850 and 1900.
- The Renaissance: Just 61% of high schoolers know what the Renaissance was, although students with college-educated parents were more likely to have heard of it. Students picked choices like "religious persecution," "the rise of democracy" and "widespread famine" over the correct choice, which stated that the Renaissance was a period of "technological and cultural advances."
- Who Adolf Hitler is: Ten percent of test-takers thought that Adolf Hitler was a munitions manufacturer. Other students thought he was a German kaiser, not the dictator responsible for killing millions of Jews.
- When Columbus sailed the ocean blue: Even though the rhyme has been drilled into students’ heads since elementary school, the New York Times reported that Common Core found that one in four high schoolers think Columbus discovered the New World after 1750, which would be after Plymouth Rock, Jamestown and other early American developments.
- Why the Federalist Papers were written: About half of high school students have no idea why the Federalist Papers were written, picking choices like "to win foreign approval for the Revolutionary War" or to "confirm George Washington’s election as the first President" instead of to ratify the U.S. Constitution.
- When A Tale of Two Cities took place: Common Core found that 57% of high schoolers knew — or guessed — that A Tale of Two Cities took place during the French Revolution.
- Brown v. Board of Education: Considered one of the most important court cases in U.S. history, Brown v. Board of Education wasn’t effectively taught to 33% of students with parents who never went to college, or even 21% of students whose parents did go to college.
- What The Scarlet Letter is about: It’s been taught in U.S. high schools for decades, but almost half of test takers thought The Scarlet Letter was about a witch trial, or that it was an actual letter, not a novel.
- Invisible Man: While not as widely taught as The Scarlet Letter, Ralph Ellison’s major work is still a classic high school read. But only 40% of students could correctly identify the novel.
- The Bill of Rights: If the U.S. government got rid of the Bill of Rights, a third of high schoolers wouldn’t even know what rights — freedom of speech and religion — would be abolished.
- JFK’s "Ask not what your country can do for you" speech: President John F. Kennedy’s famously inspiring words "ask not what your country can do for you — ask what you can do for your country" were lost on a third of high school students.
- Job’s story in the Bible: Used as an allusion in other works of literature and journalism, Job’s struggles in the Bible make for a commonly referenced story. But half of students thought he was significant for skills as a builder, warrior or prophet.
- The McCarthy investigations: Just under half of students didn’t know that Senator McCarthy was a hound for Communists and Communist sympathizers in the United States in the 1950s.
- Who the first President was: When Oklahoma high school students were given the same citizenship test that immigrants are given, they fared way worse. In fact, three-fourths of students couldn’t name the first President of the United States.
- Length of terms of House members: In the same survey, just one-third of students knew the length of terms of U.S. House members.
Part 2 --> 15 more things most students don't know.